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to treenail or not to treenail?

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that is the question? given they don't really stand out too much on the real article i'm

wondering why i should bother? i know it seems most "hot" builds here go with the

pronounced deck treenail configuration but in reality they are almost invisible. so: to treenail

or not to treenail? that is the question.

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there's no real answer to this one, I think this way. Take a 1" diameter treenail, reduce it to 1/64", (a common model shipbuilding scale) & then ask yourself  "Is it really worth it"? The other side of the coin is that some models look spectacular with a treenailed deck , or hull. It's all down to personal taste really. Hope that helps, a bit!

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g'day brian,

                   are you the member building the trumpeter bismark? i noticed that float a boat had this kit in stock when i visited.

price i think was 330 odd. question for you: how much for the upgrade kit to this plastic model? as an ex pusser would love to

tackle her but only if i can get wooden decks, authentic blast bags etc etc.


cheers chris

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ok sorry. was just blown away by the size of the box. and yes i now know your bismark is a wooden kit (envious). 

you are doing a superb job on her. congratulations. funny how a ship our nation so reviled when she was afloat

has now become one of the most admired ships in modern history!


cheers chris

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One thing I've learned from hours of studying the builds on this site is that there is a right way and a wrong way to do treenails. Not so much in the technique used, dowel or filler, but in placement. The pattern, size and consistency, seems to define the aesthetic success of the application.  


Warm regards,



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Its all a matter of personal taste. 


Tree nailing on decks usually is virtually invisible on the full size vessel after a  short period of weathering etc. there are a nunberr of pics on the site showing this. Heres one of mine http://modelshipworld.com/index.php/topic/7267-hms-pegasus-by-landlubber-mike-amativictory-models-scale-164/?p=244117


Nailing on the external hull is a different matter and there they can show more starkly.


But at any scale missing out any representation of deck nailing is not unrealistic.  But i do  like having it myself  and its the sort of thing your Admiral will like.

Edited by SpyGlass
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Ahoy Mates :D


I am a big fan of the treenail (who would have thought) 


 Just like many of the other "slightly out of scale items"  we joyfully add to our builds; treenails represent an important aspect of the actual construction of these ships, add interest to your build and look great. If your abilities are up to the task you should always consider including some 



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I agree with Joe and Geoff as far as the way to do it.  As far as whether to do it I think Bill Hime is right--if you can't get it too look right don't bother.  No one will look at your deck and say "mmm no trenails" but they could well look at it and say "what a crummy job on the trenails."

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Treenails are not always invisible. I recently took a heap of photos of the Endeavour Replica which lives at the Australian Maritime Museum in Sydney. It is one of the most accurate maritime replicas in existence. The treenails were quite noticeable.




I did some calculations for the size of a treenail using the diameter of the actual treenail on this replica as a guide. In reality the treenails were about  34mm in diameter. Using the trusty modelscaler app on my phone this came out as about  0.5mm on a 1:64 scale model. This is visible. However, on a model any smaller than 1:64 I think it would be too difficult to make treenails small to be in scale and they would be practically invisible even if you managed it.


Due to the one size fits all attitude of mass production, another point worth considering, in my opinion, is that in some cases the actual deck planks provided with some kits are out of scale.

Edited by hornet
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Yes, bamboo is my favoured material as well, drawn through the Byrnes draw plate. I still think that beyond 1:64 it is probably not worth the effort.


The thread below also discusses tree nailing options. I detailed a small tool you can make to do the initial dividing of the bamboo before drawing it through a draw plate.. Saved me a lot of bamboo splinters - nasty little beggars!!!!




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wow! didn't expect my innocent question to attract a 2 page response. and i'm still

tossing up whether to treenail bounty's deck or not. i'm using a 4 butt shift so i guess

it may enhance the pattern somewhat.


cheers chris

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Brian, could you possibly post a pic of what your silver ash tree nails look like once fitted to a deck. I've not used this timber for tree nails before and would be very interested to know how it looks. You are right, bamboo is a bit of a pain but it gives a good strong treenail that is easy to insert and provides a nice contrast to most decking timber.

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It's basically boiling down to: "It's your ship.  You are the Captain.  Do it your way".  Treenail seems to one of the more "emotional" topics around here with "yes", "no", "do it this way", "do it that way".   There really is no right or wrong way as far as method nor are they mandatory.

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jeez brian;  just when i think a decision has been reached you hit me with this stunning pic!

well i will finish planking then post pics and see what the consensus is. great build by you

by the way.


cheers chris

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Thought you might be interested in seeing a post I recently wrote up for another forum. Fairly basic, but hopefully with some interesting points.

Right; as promised; herewith my thoughts on treenails. Please note these are my own opinions, and should not be read as a hard and fast ‘do it this way’. There isn’t a ‘right way’ as such, and there are many ways of reaching the same result. 

First; What are treenails? Basically, they are wooden pins used to fasten two timbers securely together, rather than using bolts or nails. 
The shipwright would auger a hole through the timbers, and then drive in the round wooden treenail using a mallet. The treenail would be very slightly larger than the hole, so a really tight fit was obtained, and if water was taken up by the treenail, it would expand slightly, and make the fastening even tighter.
The Chatham dockyard of the period had two men on the books whose sole job was to make the treenails – boring or what!
British practice was to use mainly treenails to fasten planking (hull and deck) with hull planking ends often being fastened using bolts. French practice was to use a mixture of treenails, bolts and nails. I don’t know American practice, but would imagine it was likely to follow British.

Second; On a model, should you bother? 
Entirely up to you. Some contemporary models (i.e. actually built in the 1700/1800’s) show the treenails, some don’t.
My own view is that models of 1/48 or larger will benefit from their inclusion, but anything smaller will be perfectly fine without them. It’s all to do with individual perception. Additionally, at 1/48 scale the treenails securing the decks and hull planking would be about 0.018” (18 thou), which is readily achievable, but at 1/96 (say), the treenails would be only 0.009” (9 thou), which I certainly wouldn’t like to attempt.
I only go down to 0.020" or 0.022” because I find it difficult to produce treenails smaller than this using a drawplate, as the wood tends to break below this point, and in addition Franklin, in ‘Navy Board Ship models 1650 – 1750’ states “Strangely enough, scale sized treenails of 1/32” or less always appear to be too small and insignificant on models, and actually look better if a little oversized”

One other thing to think about is the spacing of frames and deck beams; full-size ships have multiple frames quite close together, while most of our models are built on widely spaced bulkheads. I have seen a lot of models where treenails have been employed, but only at bulkhead positions. It looks wrong, and it is quite easy to incorporate additional rows of treenails between the bulkheads, particularly if the hull is double planked

Third; Representation
To my mind, if you’re going to show the treenails, I would prefer to see actual treenails being used. It’s not essential, and treenails can be represented by ‘impressing’, using a large size hypodermic needle filed to a ring-shaped cutter, or by drilling holes and filling with a proprietary wood filler. Franklin, in ‘Navy Board Ship models 1650 – 1750’, notes that impressed treenails are seen on a number of contemporary models. Having said that, I have found that both the above methods are unsatisfactory, as impressing tends to dent the timber below the surface and cause a ‘dimple’, and filling gets messy and suffers from a lack of definition when sanded down.

Fourth; Materials
Most of my models are built using boxwood for the hull, and I prefer to use boxwood treenails. When put in, a boxwood treenail shows an end grain, which takes up a sealer or varnish rather more than the planking, and consequently appears rather darker. This contrast should be subtle, and indeed at more than three feet distant, should virtually disappear.
For this reason, I don’t favour bamboo, as I find the end grain is too prominent and open, and shows rather darker than I would want.
Decks are rather more awkward, as they tend to be of very much lighter coloured timber. On a full-size ship, they would be fastened using treenails made of the same material as the planking itself. My current model of Kingfisher employs Holly as deck planking, and I found it virtually impossible to produce treenails using a drawplate as the timber is relatively soft and breaks. I did try a different technique (Bernard Frolich’s technique) but found the finished result after sanding and scraping the deck was too good, as I could barely see the treenails at six inches!
I again took refuge in Franklin’s ‘Navy Board Ship models 1650 – 1750’ who notes that there is a present-day tendency for modellers to use rather more contrasting timbers than in the past, so I opted for boxwood treenails.
Be aware that commercial kits will often use softer material than boxwood, and the ‘definition’ of the treenails will decrease with the softness of the timber.
Always make up a test panel off the ship before committing yourself to a technique you might later regret using! 

Fifth; Techniques

When I started making treenails, I bought a Vanda-Lay treenail maker, and found it to be quite effective, but liable to break the timber using the smaller 0.025" cutter. This happened quite frequently, at which point I would have to dismantle the thing and poke around with a thin probe in order to get the bits out. There was a further problem in that 0.025" at 1/48 scale equates to about 1.2" full-size, which is a bit large for treenails for planking and decks, which should be about 0.75" (say 0.018" at model size) - It shows! Treenails fixing heavy timbers can however be larger – up to 1.25” (say 0.030”).
I then bought a Jim Byrnes drawplate, which really transformed the game. I use 1.0mm x 1.0mm (about 0.040" square) boxwood stringing which I bought from the Original Marquetry Company in Bristol, UK. This comes in metre long lengths (40") and the grain runs true. It's used by musical instrument makers for the banding on the faces of stringed instruments. I cut a pointed end on a strip, and then pull through the drawplate using a pair of flat-jawed jewellers pliers. I found I can draw down four lengths of stringing to 0.020” in about half an hour - that's sufficient material for about 500 to 600 treenails, allowing for wastage!
The original marquetry site can be found on http://www.originalmarquetry.co.uk/ , but I'm sure there must be similar outfits over in the states. Incidentally, the same company can also provide black pressure-dyed boxwood stringing, so you can produce all the black treenails for the wales or representations of bolted fastenings!

Points to consider when using a drawplate:
1. Use a proper timber drawplate, such as Jim Byrnes’ – a jewellers drawplate is designed to reduce silver or gold wire to a smaller diameter, but does it by compression, rather than cutting.
2. The wood must be straight grained - if it's at all cross-grained it will break.
3. Mount the drawplate in a solid vice - you can't hand hold.
4. Start in a hole on the drawplate that will just accept the timber.
5. Use every hole in taking the timber down to size - don't be tempted to miss one or two out!
6. Use flat jaw pliers to pull the timber - serrated jaws will bruise the end of the timber and make it break.
7. Pull the timber through the hole steadily and at right angles to the plate.
8. Finally - and I do apologise if this sounds like teaching Grandma to suck eggs - make sure the drawplate is the right way round. The timber should be entered from the side with the hole sizes stamped in.

Actual procedures as follows:

Standard treenailing using hard woods: Make the treenail stock as above, then use a scalpel to make alternate angled and straight cuts along the timber at about 0.150” intervals to give you loads of treenails with a pointed end. Treenails are a bit like socks – you always find them getting lost, to turn up months later where you least expected them! So make plenty.
Mark out the positions of the treenails (Use any of the standard reference works to determine the spacing rules – or tell me if you’re flummoxed, and I’ll add an Addendum), and use a sharp point to make a starter hole. Drill the holes using a drill the same size as your treenails, or a thou or two larger (experiment) Pick up the treenail with forceps, dip in Welbond, and push into the hole until almost flush. When dry, cut off level with the deck using a scalpel, then sand and scrape to a good finish.

Frolich’s Method for softer woods: Used when you can’t pull treenails stock using a drawplate. Take a flat strip of timber, sand down to 0.020”, then cut a strip about 0.150” from the end, across the grain. Take this small strip and cut it along the grain, with the scalpel at a slight angle to make a wedge of material. Take the next cut at the opposite angle, and so on. This will produce individual wedge shaped treenails, which when dipped in glue and inserted in the drilled hole, will slightly deform to a round section and fill the hole. In this instance, experiment with the size of the drilled hole to enable the wedge to fill it.

Sixth; Common errors
Use of oversize treenails – if in doubt, make them small, or leave them out.
Poor marking out – lines of treenails should be straight or it looks wrong.
Using a jewellers drawplate.
Not using a test piece – It’s too late if you start on the hull and don’t like it!

That’s about it – Hope it helps. I shall now sit back and await a torrent of criticism of my methods!

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